Journals of A. B. Gray, 1846

Introduction by Jim Bokern

Geologist A. B. Gray traveled from Lake Superior into what will become Manitowish Waters in 1846. His map and journal chronicle Chief White Thunder and Cross Lake, which is likely Rest Lake. His trip moves from LaPointe over the Flambeau Trail to the Turtle Portage in Mercer, Wisconsin. Cross Lake, Trout Lake, White Deer Lake, today White Birch Lake, Lac Vieux Desert, and Lake Superior are remarkably documented with his map and journal. We choose to include this portion of Gray’s journal to give early context and insights into what becomes Wisconsin’s Northwoods.

We begin with A. B. Gray traveling to LaPointe to organize an expedition into the lakes, streams, and forests south of Lake Superior.


Report taken from the Journals of A.B. Gray -1846
29th CONGRESS Doc. No. 211. Ho. of Reps.
1st Session. War Dept. War Dept.,


Map of that Part of the Mineral Lands Adjacent to Lake Superior Ceded to the United States by the Treaty of 1942 with the Chippewas


Andrew Belcher (A.B.) Gray Journal Excerpt 1846:


…Mr. Schlatter to continue the surveys, and upon finishing all that was requisite, to join me at the Montreal river, I sailed for La Pointe, which place we reached in the middle of the night after a run of six hours, and where I procured such further supplies as were deemed sufficient to carry the parties through with their work, and back to the agency.

Mr. Eliason was directed to run out the lines upon Black River, and to connect with those upon Presque Isle; Mr. Schlatter to commence, on the Montreal, another point of beginning, from which a large number of square miles had been located.

On my arrival at La Point, I found, as in the summer before, that the numerous bands of Chippewas residing in the region ceded to the United States by the “Treaty of 1842” had assembled to receive their annuity in goods and money from the government. The enterprising and talented superintendent of Indian affairs for this district, Mr. Richmond, had already been upon the ground, and but a few days elapsed before the whole body of Indians (several thousand in number) and received each their portion, and were cheerfully leaving for their winter quarters in the interior. Major Campbell was also here, this island being within the boundaries of his portion of your district, having left the Ontonagon but a few days before our boats had reached that river, on our way up.

Artistic illustration of Lake Superior Ojibwe camps. ca 1700s and 1800s. Manitowish Waters Historical Society, Catalogue Number 2020.2.9

We had frequent “talks” with the chiefs, and I recognized several of them whom I had seen the year before. Much that was interesting and important was gleaned from these Indians; and in our consultations with them, Mr. George Johnston was of great service to us. This well-educated and intelligent “half-breed” is recognized as the head chief of the Chippewas, and possesses much influence with them; together with an extensive knowledge of their various habits and customs. Partly through his advice, and our desire to obtain all the information possible of this district of country, it was decided upon by Major Campbell and myself to return

Doc. No. 211. 7

to Copper Harbor by an inland route, and to avail ourselves of the opportunity offered by the Lac du Flambeau and Trout Lake bands going to their homes by way of the Montreal River.

It was so arranged that we should join them when they reached the mouth of this river, and to proceed from thence with them. Thus we would be enabled to obtain a sketch of the topographical features, together with an idea of the mineral character of that portion of the interior and south part of the district under your superintendency, and which had never yet been explored.

By the time of their arrival, the surveys had progressed as far as was practicable and necessary, and the parties were directed within a few days to complete the lines they were running, and to proceed to the agency at Copper Harbor with the boats and men, where I expected to join them about the time of their arrival.

On the afternoon of the 29th, the canoes have in sight, and by sunset a large number of the Indians had encamped on the right bank of the river below us. By 8 o’clock next morning we were all on the march, Major Campbell and myself being provided each with two able and trusty voyageurs, who had been accustomed to “pack” and travel through the woods. We were three days and a half making the “portage,” estimated at about thirty-five miles by the old Indian trail from the mouth of the Montreal to “Portage Lake,” which latter is the head of a succession of small lakes extending for ten miles, and which are the headwaters of some of the tributaries to the Chippewa river.

About two miles along our route from Lake Superior we crossed a high range of trap rock, bearing northeasterly and southwesterly. Descending rapidly half a mile further, we forded the main stream, and continued on the old trail to the southward, leaving the river to the east of us. Some ten miles further on, after rising from flat and swampy grounds, we came to another range of trap less distinct and regular than the first, although showing itself bare upon the surface in many places.

Again, in about eight miles, immediately after crossing a small stream running to the east, and which we supposed to be a branch of the Montreal, we ascended a high and elevated dike of trap rock, perfectly bare, with numerous veins of quartz passing through it – some of them from two to three feet in width. The trail passes directly over this range; and from our cursory examination, we judged it well worthy the explorer’s attention and have no doubt, from the surface indications noticed by us, will prove to contain veins of metalliferous nature similar to those upon Kewaiwona point (modern day Keweenaw).

Map of Keewaiwona Point

During our travel between the two last ranges, we observed scattered about large and isolated boulders of trap, and of the old red sandstone formation, at some time or other detached from the regular dikes, which appear to be nearly parallel with each other, and ranging in a N 20† E, and S. 20† W. direction. Having suddenly descended form this last dike, we came to low ground, covered by a sort of prairie grass, with occasional groups of tamarack and spruce. A mile or two further we crossed a deep running stream, flowing easterly, 20 feet wide, and slightly colored red, though perfectly clear. Here we found one of the bands of Indians out, and having already caught a number of fine fish. This stream we took to be one of the main branches of the Montreal, and was represented

8 Doc. No. 211.

as heading in several small lakes about ten miles to the southwest. Pursuing our journey, we rose gradually upon a high granitic range of hills, the rock showing itself in many places; and, continuing in a southeasterly course, we came to another bold and rapid stream, 20 feet wide, flowing to the east, with a bed composed of heavy masses of trap and granite; encamped immediately on the south bank; the ground flat and moist. The next morning, about a mile and a half to the south, crossed the head stream of the Montreal, of about the same width, but sluggish, having alder bushes, with a fine grass meadow, on either side for 600 feet. Four miles more, over slight elevations and occasional swamps, brought us to the “Portage Lake” of the Mississippi waters.


The country bordering this Portage, path, aside from its mineral character, has but little to recommend it – little, indeed, in an agricultural view; the descent towards Lake Superior from the main dividing ridge being sudden and broken, with numerous cedar and tamarack trees. Occasionally good timber land is met with, and spots that may admit of cultivation. Maple, hemlock, birch, and pine, growing to a large size, are here and there met with upon the high grounds, and cedar of uncommon growth occurs along the swamps. The heavy rains that had fallen recently (before and during one or two of the days of our march) might have swollen the streams and caused the trail to appear in its worst state, but in our judgment it would be difficult to make even a passable road for horses or mules, unless by the outlay of a large appropriation of money. Should it be found practicable, however, to use such at this point, fine meadow grass may be had in abundance, and I doubt not will be found profitable, for the mode adopted at present of packing in the interior is a slow and expensive operation. This is the route taken by the Indians and traders going from La Point to Lac du Flambeau, Trout Lake, and usually to Lac Vieux desert, although the chief of the latter lake and his band went this season, with their canoes, to the Anse, (Kewaiwona bay,) (modern day Keweenaw)  and from thence, by a portage of fifty miles, to their homes at the “Old Gardens.”

Lac Vieux Desert Historical Marker. Erected in 1960 by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Marker Number 94.

Their packs usually are very heavy, form one hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds weight, and they are obliged to take advantage of as much water traveling as possible. The system of packing, too, is no confined to the men alone; but their women pack equally as much, and their children, down to four years of age, in proportion. Upon our expedition, I saw an old squaw over seventy years of age with a pack weighing from 80 to 100 pounds, which she carried over the whole portage.

From this (“Portage Lake”) we took to birch canoes; and our little fleet, winding for 10 or 12 miles through narrow passes and small lakes of half a mile in width, landed on the east side of “Turtle Lake,” where it was necessary to make a short portage of a half or three-quarters of a mile over land to another lake.

Whilst the canoes were being carried across, and our camp pitched for the night, Major Campbell and myself started out with an Indian guide to examine the country around. Our course was southwesterly, and, after walking ten or twelve miles, returned about sunset. We passed through some beautiful valleys, and over gently undulating ridges, with heavy growths of maple, birch, hemlock, and pine; the soil, for culture, equalling any to be found on the shores of Lake Superior. Crossing over a heavy dike of trap, we noticed large boulders of quartz – one mass of a dull, milky hue, measuring eight feet in diameter; and in the trap rock was

Doc. No. 211. 9

Observed several narrow veins of iron pyrites. Upon returning, our guide took us by an old wigwam and showed us a beautiful specimen of the micaceous specular iron, weighing over one hundred pounds, which, he said, came from the neighborhood of the trap range that we had crossed. They permitted us to break off some pieces, which were brought to the Harbor by us.

The next day we continued on our course to the eastward. After a short distance by water, made another portage of 2‡ miles with the canoes, part of it through a deep tamarack swamp, and launched them into the main branch of the Chippewa River. This stream appeared to be about 30 feet wide where we struck it, rapid and quite deep, and, I understand, can be descended from Trout Lake in canoes the whole way to the Mississippi, with but a few portages around falls or rapids.

In the evening we entered “Cross” lake from the river – so called by the Indians from its resembling a cross in shape – and encamped upon a high point of land jutting out and forming one of the arms of the cross. Upon this point are two large wigwams and several acres of ground cleared and cultivated, being the summer residence of “White Thunder,” a tall and athletic-looking Indian. He had reached home the day before from the payment of La Point, and received us in a very friendly manner. Here he lives with his brother, in the possession of all around him, no one seeking to molest or disturb him. Unlike civilized man in this respect, the Indian fears not his neighbor; he leaves his wigwam unprotected – his canoe, his net, or trap, without a guard – conscious that no brother of the tribe will disturb his property. It is a singular fact, that one Indian will not steal or plunder from another of the same band, although they all agree in taking what they can from the white man or stranger, and whenever an opportunity offers.

Our course up the river for about 10 or 15 miles, to this lake, was easterly, although the stream curved around in every direction, occasionally opening into small and picturesque lakes, surrounded by high land, with excellent pineries, and narrowing again to a width barely sufficient for the passage of a canoe.

After a detention of a day and a half at this encampment, (our guide stopping with the other Indians to join in a “medicine dance” for the cure of a sick pappoose,) we continued the ascent of the Chippewa, and in the afternoon, at 5 o’clock, came to Trout lake, where our tents were pitched upon the bank, in a beautiful pine grove, a short distance above “Kenisteno’s” lodge, near the outlet of the lake.

Fine fish, with delightful water, is found here; and the small patch of ground, which was but rudely cultivated, had produced excellent vegetables. Several families reside upon its borders, and Kenisteno, the chief of the band, has his hunting grounds in this district.

Trout Lake is from two and a half to three miles in length, containing numerous small islands, and may be called the head of canoe navigation of the Chippewa River.

Native Americans harvesting wild rice. Manitowish Waters Historical Society. Catalogue Number 2021.022.001.

The river today, in some places, was quite shallow and rapid, with occasionally rafts of driftwood, which obstructing our passage, caused us to lighten the canoes and lift them over. In the bed of the river, near the shoals, we saw quantities of the freshwater clam; some of them, upon the inside of the shell, displaying beautiful colors of a pearly luster. Heavy growths of the wild rice were passed through in the swamps bordering the

10 Doc. No. 211.

river. The gathering of this rice in the autumn is usually performed by the squaws, in canoes, and it is an article of food much prized by the Indians. Observing a kind of bird rising in large numbers, one was shot, and I noticed it to be identical with the “sora,” found at certain seasons in Virginia.

The next evening we reached “White Deer” lake with our canoes, after making several portages and passing up a small and crooked branch, with difficult swamps, through which we pushed ourselves. This small sheet of water – so called, according to tradition, from the circumstance of a white deer having been seen upon its bank – was supposed by us to empty into a branch of the Wisconsin River. Antoine (our guide thus far) has his winter quarters upon the borders of this little lake; and he, with his squaw and several children, are all that live in the neighborhood. Catching fish is sustenance and hunting for furs during the winter, which latter he take into the settlements and trades off for provisions, appear to be his only occupation. He has a small clearing, with a comfortable wigwam; but, like most of these Indians, is very poor, and depends almost entirely upon his gun and his net for a subsistence. Here Antoine finding himself at home, thought it more pleasant than traveling through thickets and swamps, and, becoming a little fractious, declined going any further with us. He, however, decided to guide us some ten miles more, a part of it by water; which, if he had not done so, would have been a serious matter to us in the loss of time, the want of canoes, ect.

The second day after reaching White Deer Lake, we bivouacked upon a high range of hills, near a small running branch, which the Indian told us emptied into the Wisconsin River. Our guide, Antoine, had now returned to his wigwam, leaving us to pursue our journey through a portion of country known only to the wildest Indians.

In the night I got some good observations for latitude with a small sextant and artificial horizon, which, together with a small pocket chronometer that I had taken along, gave us our position very nearly. Knowing, also, the position of Lac Vieux desert, from the observations of Captain Cram, which I had taken the precaution to procure, I immediately got a course, and early the next morning we were on our way homeward.

We had now, as was supposed, got about halfway on the route through to the Anse settlement. During the day we forded several streams running to the south – one or two of them quite large, sixty feet wide. Tamarack swamps, from a half to two miles in width, were waded through; and in the evening, about sunset, he struck Lac Vieux desert, near the lower end of the lake. Half a mile further, after crossing the deepest running stream, which we took to be the Wisconsin River, some five miles before striking the lake, we fell upon an old trail, which was followed, it seeming to run in the right direction, and which brought us out.

One of the men started a fire; and soon the smoke, curling above the trees, attracted the attention of an Indian, who had gone over to one of the islands from the mainland opposite. His canoe was shortly seen winding its way towards our camp in the dusk of the evening, and in half an hour he was with us, when we agreed with him to take us across to the head of the lake.

The next morning we crossed the lake in three birch canoes, our party consisting of Major Campbell, Mr. James Paul, (who had accompanied us on our route,) myself, and four men. Near the upper end of Lac Vieux

Doc. No. 211. 11

desert our canoes landed upon an island, where several acres of ground are cultivated by the Indians.

Native American with a Wigwam in the village of Lac du Flambeau. Manitowish Waters Historical Society. Catalogue Number 2018.2.5.

This is what gives to the lake the name of the “Old Gardens,” or “old planting grounds,” and some very fine potatoes are raised upon the island. We found only two wigwams of Indians at this point, the main part of the band not having reached home from the “payment.”

The land in the vicinity of this beautiful body of water is of very good quality, resembling that in the regions of the Anse and Grand Island. Heavy growths of the white and yellow pine are seen upon the borders of the lake, and ridges, slightly elevated, of maple, birch, hemlock, and popular were noticed a short distance back. “Sugar bushes” (spots where sugar is made from the sap of the maple) appeared numerous. The water is limpid and pure, and the climate salubrious. One of the Indians gave us some specimens of iron pyrites, and told us that he could, in two days’ march, take us to a fine vein of copper.

On the morning of the 12th of September, we left the waters of the Wisconsin and commenced the descent to Lake Superior. From where our canoes landed, at the head of the lake, we struck upon an old Indian trail; and following it through swamps and ravines, over hills and high granite ranges, we reached the Anse settlement on the fourth day. The trail was a very rough one, and, if it had not been for the quick eye of one of our Indian voyageurs, we should have found it extremely difficult to make our way through.

Wisconsin Historical Society, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Pictured Rocks shoreline viewed from Lake Superior, 1821. Image ID. 4951.

At the Anse, Major Campbell, and myself secured each a good canoe, and dividing our party, set out for Copper Harbor; he by way of the south coast of Kewaiwona point (modern day Keweenaw), and I taking the “Portage Lake” route. The second night I reached the Harbor, having been driven before a violent gale for four hours, and through tremendous seas and breakers, which no open boat, other than a strong birch canoe, could have weathered.

I was perfectly satisfied that these bark canoes, when managed by skillful voyageurs, are the best boats used on the lake; and, indeed, as proof it, the well-known able voyageur, Toussaint Picquette, whom I had taken up with me in the early part of the season, and who guided me through all my voyages and explorations, particularly upon this night, during the perilous moments of the equinoctial agile, was finally lost on the 13th October, passing by the same coast, and through the same seas and breakers, in the yawl-boat, with the universally lamented Doctor Houghton.

Our trip through from La Pointe, although accomplished under many adverse circumstances, has enabled us to become acquainted with the interior of the district under our superintendency, and by which also we gained much information of use to the explorers and settlers as well as to the government.

Much of this extensive region, which has heretofore been supposed to be barren and worthless, now presents itself as a country of vast importance, with resources for producing great wealth, and offering facilities of which but few districts can boast. This geographical position of the lake, its mineral ranges, and fine natural harbors, pure and healthy atmosphere, beautiful and picturesque scenery, with its fish and waters unsurpassed in variety and excellence, all render it peculiarly attractive, not only to the settler for the purpose of agriculture, but to the explorer and adventurer in search of the riches embosomed within its rocks, the invalid, the traveler who is desirous of acquiring scientific knowledge, and the admirer of the natural beauties and wonders of American scenery.

Additional Sources: